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The Case for Mitch Moreland

Heath embarks on the annual Mitch Moreland truther circuit.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

I never knew how whiny Red Sox fans were until this past December when Boston re-signed Mitch Moreland to a two-year deal worth $13 million. Truly, I have never seen so many people espousing the merits of ground-ball specialist Eric Hosmer. Eric Hosmer, he of the career .155 ISO. Hosmer, whose banner 2017 was buoyed by a .351 BABIP, a mark 35 points higher than his career .316 BABIP.

Anyway, I am not here to debate Hosmer versus Moreland. Nor am I here to denigrate Hosmer, who is a fine MLB first baseman. Instead, I am here to say nice things about Mitch Moreland. Moreland, who is now fatefully tied to Hosmer since the Red Sox chose to re-up with Mitch instead of overpay for Hosmer. Disclaimer: Mitchy Two-Bags and I are from the same hometown. We once played on the same soccer team. But Moreland’s sport was obviously baseball—I mean, the dude can pitch, too. Shohei Ohtani, who?

Now that you know my take is slightly biased, let us begin.

The Park

Mitch Moreland is a left-handed hitter embarking on his second season as the Red Sox first baseman. The park factor is significant. The Green Monster in left field ensures that Moreland will not hit many opposite field home runs. Heck, he barely ever hit to the opposite field anyway, prior to arriving in Boston. The right field fence in Fenway is deep, unless you are David Ortiz. Which Moreland is not. Neither is Hosmer, I might add.

So what did Moreland do upon arriving at this park that suppresses left-handed power? He changed his approach. He stopped pulling the ball as much and started going opposite field more. Novel idea, right? Many will scoff, but I think it is impressive for a 31 year-old ballplayer to alter his approach.

The irony of it all is, if Moreland stays healthy in 2018 and continues to employ more of an all-field approach, he will sacrifice some power for more doubles and a higher batting average. His stat-line would probably look a little bit more like [gulp] Eric Hosmer’s.

Numbers for the Skeptics

Moreland posted the second-highest opposite field percentage of his career in 2017 (26.7%). He also pulled the ball at the lowest rate of his career (37.2%). His 38.9% hard contact rate was his highest mark since 2014. His 9.9% walk rate was the highest mark of his career if you exclude the small sample size of his rookie season (only 47 games).

Do you see how many good things you can find to say about someone if you just try? Moreland’s 20.8% K-rate was his best mark since 2012. His BABIP rebounded from an unsightly .266 in 2016 to a slightly less unsightly .278 last year. Mitch isn’t fleet of foot at 6’2” and 230 pounds. He is a big, strong dude, and with that comes a loss of speed. Therefore, a BABIP under .300 is not unlikely, especially for a guy with a career .286 mark.

Growth against LHP

Tired of reading good stuff about Mitch Moreland? Too bad! Moreland had his best season against southpaws in 2016, posting a .277/.320/.479 line over 94 at-bats. That year he walked at a below average 5.0% rate and struck out a vast 26.0% of the time. Not good marks and not positive, I know. But there is a segway here...

In 2017, Moreland slashed .247/.341/.342 against southpaws. He didn’t show any power (remember, Fenway) but he increased his walk rate to a shiny 11.8% rate and cut his K-rate just a tad to 24.7 percent. All of this lefty-on-lefty business is significant, in my opinion. When Moreland’s bat his hot (he is prone to torrid streaks) I can see the Red Sox keeping his defensive prowess in the game against a southpaw. You might not want to play Mitch against a southpaw in DFS, but for season-long purposes more opportunity against left-handed pitchers means more counting statistics.

Keeping Elite Company

In Rob’s farewell post he mentioned Moreland’s barrels per plate appearance (Brls/PA) from 2017. I will do you all a solid and throw the link at you: click here to be transported to the Baseball Savant world. Basically, Moreland’s 8.2 Brls/PA slotted him right underneath some dude named Mike Trout. Other notables around Moreland’s grouping are names like Paul Goldschmidt, Yoenis Cespedes, Rhys Hoskins, and Manny Machado. “Mitchy Two-Bags” ranked 26th in all of baseball in Brls/PA in 2017, just below Trout and Goldy. Pretty fine company to keep, in my opinion.

The Verdict

Please note that I am not making a case for Moreland against Hosmer. I am only making a case for Moreland, attempting to illuminate some positives. I contend that two years for a player of Moreland’s caliber is a worthwhile investment for the Red Sox, and that Mitch offers some corner infield appeal to fake-leaguers in 2018. I happen to believe that a healthy 32-year-old Moreland offers some upside in that Boston lineup. I will be taking my annual late-round stab on him yet again in 2018...will you?

Poll

Will you draft Mitch Moreland in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 61%
    Yes
    (29 votes)
  • 31%
    No
    (15 votes)
  • 6%
    Eric Hosmer forever
    (3 votes)
47 votes total Vote Now